Unmanned Battlefield Systems: Future Unknowns

Dr S. Guruprasad is the former Director General (Production Coordination & Services Interaction) and a Distinguished Scientist retired from Defence Research Development Organisation, India
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  • October-December 2022

    The Unmanned Systems, either remotely operated or autonomous to different degrees, have already become a part of defence inventory and are fast becoming a significant part of the combat forces apart from being used for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) with days of endurance and inter-continental ranges with strike capability are redefining war doctrines and operational tactics. The Naval and Ground Forces are going to be new dominions of Unmanned Systems which was till now dominated by UAVs. The real turning point would be teaming up human and Autonomous Unmanned Systems, be it any battlespace. Another area would be collaboration of Air, Ground and Naval Heterogeneous Unmanned Systems with quick formation of operational autonomous teams. It is important to acknowledge that the human tactical judgement with critical information at hand cannot be replaced by algorithmic computations whether based on deterministic models or Artificial Intelligence. The so-called situational awareness can be comprehended better by a well-experienced battlefield commander rather than a laboratory-trained autonomous system. The teaming up would be challenging in complex situations, especially in identification of friend and foe, decoys, and in prioritising targets. The Autonomous Systems will need to learn to conserve energy and ammunition and have survival skills to tackle adverse situations. Another important domain would be the development of ‘autonomous by birth’ platforms that would outperform all manned platforms, especially large platforms. Inherently, the limitations of human attention duration and the biological necessities were major challenges for defence system designers. The Unmanned Autonomous Systems (UAS) overcome these limitations at the same time foregoing the unique human acumen and heuristic knowledge. The possibility of compactness, the risk-taking ability and immense endurance and range, and above all, the numbers that can be deployed outweigh every aspect. The domain of Unmanned Battlefield Systems is still in infancy and has pioneer advantage and hence will always define the leaders. The domain belongs to those who dare and don’t dither the unknowns and uncertainties. The simple rule for innovations in this domain would be to fail fast and develop faster.

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